The Princeton, NJ-based architecture firm Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, LLC (FMG) announces that construction has started for the restoration of Louis I. Kahn’s Trenton Bath House and Day Camp. These landmark buildings, designed by the renowned Modernist architect Kahn (1901-1974) for the Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley, opened in 1955. The project will restore the site and remove later changes added by the owners. A ribbon cutting is planned for June 2010.
Ewing Township, the present owners, received a $750,000 grant from the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund to support the restoration. Mercer County is funding the remainder of the restoration through the Mercer County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. “The Bath House is two things at once: an architectural gem and a dynamic location of community activity. It is gratifying that the property will continue to serve as a center for community activity for years to come,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes.
“We are thrilled to be reviving Louis Kahn’s seminal Bath House and Day Camp,” said Michael Mills, partner in charge of preservation at FMG. “We have the utmost respect for the historical integrity of this important piece of American architecture and for Kahn’s vision. Restoring this complex to its intended use and original appearance, while preserving the structures for the future exemplifies the spirit of our practice – to foster civic spaces that bring the past and present together.”
The Bath House served as the entrance and changing area for an outdoor swimming pool. The project consists of four concrete block structures containing changing rooms that surround an open atrium, each topped by a large wood-framed pyramidal roof. Kahn designed them as part of a larger plan, which was never executed.
The Bath House is widely regarded as a turning point in Kahn’s career. Kahn himself said that the project unleashed “a generative force which is recognizable in every building which I have done since.”
The structures had suffered from exposure to the elements, a process exacerbated by their openness and fragile materials. The preservation project has three parts:
· Removal of elements not designed by Kahn but added after building completion (including a snack bar, storage shed, fencing, and landscape features);
· Reconstruction of elements designed by Kahn but later removed, including the entrance mural and the gravel circle in the square atrium;
· Upgrading of the complex to current standards, including barrier-free accessibility, fire protection, and sanitary codes; and
· Design of a new snack bar and landscape features.
The Bath House was listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1984. The complex was the property of the Trenton Jewish Community Center until 2006, when it was conveyed to Mercer County. It was then conveyed, with preservation easements, to Ewing Township. The County and Township are collaborating on the restoration to return the project to its original use.